Portuguese producers are looking to strike gold with a hit series that could follow in the footsteps of European shows such as “Money Heist,” “Hierro,” “The Bridge,” “Trapped” or “Skam.”
They have several advantages: Portugal has competitive production costs which can compensate for more limited budgets; they’re fast learners, as shown by the rapid development of a successful domestic telenovelas industry in the early 2000s; and they are good at international networking, as confirmed by the solid network of foreign co-productions in place for film and TV productions.
Still, challenges remain, including difficulties in raising financing, as well as the need for greater investment in script development.
ONSeries Lisboa has highlighted three genre categories where there has been strong series production in Portugal: Historical fiction, romance and crime drama.
Of these, crime drama has been the strongest area for co-production. RTP’s Jose Fragoso explains that this is because it’s easier to achieve a shared vision for a noir thriller, in contrast with other genres. The rising commitment to noir thrillers has inspired terms such as Portuguese noir, often allied with Galician noir, that reflect crime drama stories with a greater emphasis on emotional ties, family relations and romance.
One of the game-changing series was “South” (2019), from Arquipelago Filmes, which was the first Portuguese television series to be presented in CoPro Series as part of the 2018 Berlinale’s Co-Production Market. It then premiered at the festival’s Drama Series.
Edgar Medina and Rui Cardoso, the co-creators of “South” opened OnSeries Lisboa with their new murder-mystery-thriller “Natural Law,” directed by João Nuno Pinto (“Mosquito”). Set in a sleepy Portuguese town that is rocked by the murder of a teenage student, the series follows the personal and moral crisis of a female judge and her teenage son and daughter, caught in a web of intrigue. The slick visuals, editing and sustained suspense are good examples of how Portuguese creators have quickly adapted to the storytelling challenges posed by the series.
Recent and upcoming shows from Portugal, presented and discussed at ONSeries Lisboa include:
Netflix’s first Portuguese original series, a 10-part €6 million ($6.7 million) series launched in November 2021, co-produced with pubcaster RTP and produced by SPi. The 1960s spy thriller revolves around a rogue KGB agent working in the Portuguese re-broadcasting office of Radio Free Europe.
In development, a noir thriller set in Iceland. A co-production between SPi and Iceland’s Glassriver, for RTP and Iceland’s pubcaster, RUV.
“Crime of Father Amaro”
Directed by Leonel Vieira for his company Volf Filmes and based on the original 19th century novel.
“Dry Water,” Season 2
A gritty crime thriller co-produced by Spain’s Portocabo and Portugal’s SPi, for HBO, TVG and RTP.
A noir thriller about a submerged village on the border, that re-emerges from a huge dam after a severe drought. Co-produced by Spain’s Atlantia Media and Portugal’s Coral Europa, for RTP and RTVE.
“The Queen and the Bastard”
Set in 16th century Portugal, produced by Fado Filmes for RTP.
About the MAOC international anti-drugs agency and its operation to stamp out the narco trade between the north of Portugal and Galicia, Spain. Co-produced by Spain’s Ficción Producciones and Portugal’s Ukbar Filmes, for Amazon Prime Video, RTP and Spain’s FORTA regional broadcasters consortium.
Co-produced for OPTO/SIC by SPi, La Panda and Legendary Pictures, based on a true story of a 1990s hairdresser who robbed banks using a plastic revolver.
ONSeries Lisboa also organized a development competition with six projects shortlisted from over 40 submissions. The two winners were dystopian social drama “Restlessness,” from Brazilian script development company Formiga Filmes, which won a €15,000 ($16,800) prize sponsored by RTP, and narco thriller “Waterline,” from BroCinema, which received a €10,000 ($11,200) development services award from SIC. Formiga Filmes’ Martina Rupp says that she aims to use the award to create a writer’s room for the project.
ONSeries Lisboa ran over Nov. 25-26, in Lisbon, produced by Inside Content.